Donn McClean previews Sunday's action at Navan and he's expecting Gordon Elliott to continue his dominance of the meeting.
It’s Bar One Racing Troytown Chase day at Navan on Sunday, so remember to look twice at everything that Gordon Elliott runs.
The trainer has had at least one winner on the day every year for the last eight years, including that memorable day in 2016, when he was responsible for six of the seven winners, including Troytown winner Empire Of Dirt and Proudstown Hurdle winner Jury Duty. Then there is the current form of the yard, another treble at Thurles on Thursday, and a running strike rate of 29%.
Balbriggan was sent off as 4/1 favourite when he won the Troytown Chase in 2014, Elliott’s first, and that sparked an association with the race and the day that runs and runs. Riverside City, Empire Of Dirt and Mala Beach all followed Balbriggan, a four-year domination, and Run Wild Fred’s victory last year made it five from eight for the trainer in one of the most competitive staying handicap chases on the Irish racing calendar.
The similarities in the respective profiles of last year’s winner Run Wild Fred and this year’s favourite Frontal Assault are uncanny. Both owned by Gigginstown House Stud, both trained by Gordon Elliott. Both seven-year-olds, both second-season chasers, both maiden chasers at the start of the season. Both second in the Irish Grand National as a novice the previous season. (Both beaten by a Dermot McLoughlin-trained outsider!)
Both rated in the low-to-mid 140s.
Run Wild Fred was beaten on his first run last season, he kept on well to finish second to Cape Gentleman in a Grade 3 novices’ chase at Cork over an inadequate two and a half miles. Then he won the Troytown doing handsprings.
Frontal Assault won a novices’ chase at Galway last month on his debut this season. He was weak in the market beforehand, but he jumped well and he travelled well and he stayed on strongly up the hill to win nicely. And the form of that race received a nice boost when the Bob Murphy-trained runner-up Darrens Hope came out on Sunday and won the Grade 2 Florida Pearl Chase at Punchestown.
Frontal Assault has a lot of the attributes that you look for in a Troytown Chase contender, he jumps well, he stays well, he has a touch of class and, a seven-year-old who has run just six times over fences, he has the potential to go beyond the handicap rating of 142 off which he will race on Sunday. He is a worthy favourite.
It used to be the case that you needed a low weight to win the Troytown. Twelve of the 15 winners between 2001 and 2015 carried 10st 6lb or less. But it appears that that has turned around of late, with four of the last six winners carrying 11st 6lb or more. It is a race in which the classier horses tend to come to the fore these days.
The Grade 3 John Lynch Carpets & Flooring Monksfield Hurdle is another race in which Gordon Elliott has been dominant of late, fielding, as he has, the last three winners of the race and five of the last six, and he has a strong hand this year again with American Mike and Three Card Brag.
A top-class bumper horse last season, second in the Champion Bumper at Cheltenham and third in the Champion Bumper at Punchestown, American Mike was impressive in winning his maiden hurdle at Down Royal earlier this month, at the meeting at which he won his first bumper last year. There is room for improvement in his jumping, but he organised himself well after landing awkwardly over the second last flight, he picked up well on the run to the final flight, and he went on to beat another good bumper horse in the Gavin Cromwell-trained Letsbeclearaboutit by six and a half lengths, with the pair of them well clear of their rivals.
Three Card Brag ran just once in a bumper, he beat the long odds-on Dancing City on his racecourse debut at Wexford last March, and he looked good in winning his maiden hurdle at Galway at the end of October, staying on well up the hill on the soft ground to win well.
He could only finish third in the Grade 3 For Auction Hurdle at Navan two weeks ago, but two miles on yielding ground was probably a sharp enough test for him. He wasn’t great at the third last flight just as Mark Walsh was increasing the pace on the ultimate winner Hercule Du Seuil from the front, and he was careful at the second last, but he stayed on well up the run-in to go down by a total of just over a length.
The step up to two and a half miles on Sunday should suit, and he is fully deserving of his place in the line-up beside his stable companion. It is interesting that Gordon Elliott won this race in 2020 with Fakiera, when he had his better-fancied stable companion Farouk D’Alene back in fourth.
Don’t miss the first race at Gowran Park on Saturday, the 12.00, the Noreside Catering Irish EBF Beginners’ Chase. This is the race in which Bob Olinger got off the mark over fences last year, and it has been won in the past by Energumene, Bellshill, Monksland and Don Poli.
This year’s renewal runs deep.
The Willie Mullins-trained Minella Cocooner won the Grade 1 Nathaniel Lacy Hurdle at Leopardstown’s Dublin Racing Festival last year, then finished second behind his stable companion The Nice Guy in the Albert Bartlett Hurdle at Cheltenham and in the Irish Mirror Hurdle at Punchestown. Henry de Bromhead’s horse Journey With Me won his first two hurdle races last season, then fell at the final flight when booked for second or third in the Ballymore Hurdle at Cheltenham.
Whatdeawant inherited third place in the Ballymore and, a three-parts brother to Hardline, he is another who will be of interest on his debut over fences, as will point-to-point winner Classic Getaway. Sams Profile has plenty of chasing experience, and Mouse Morris’ horse ran well for a long way in Thedevilscoachman’s beginners’ chase at Galway and in Gerri Colombe’s beginners’ chase at Fairyhouse. Although he is a Galmoy Hurdle winner, it will be interesting to see him now back over a slightly shorter trip over fences.
Minella Cocooner and Journey With Me can both step up in trip as the season develops, but this intermediate distance is a good distance for both of them on their respective seasonal returns.
Gevrey is also interesting in the Gowran Park Handicap Chase, stepping up in trip again. Gordon Elliott’s horse was a good winner over this type of trip at Limerick last month, and he finished off his race well last time at Down Royal over two miles, which was probably on the sharp side for him.
He is a horse who leaves the impression that he only does as much as he needs to do, three of his four wins have been gained by a half a length, three parts of a length and a neck, but he is a talented individual, and Davy Russell gets a good tune out of him.
He is racing off a mark of 134 on Saturday, he has to concede weight to all his rivals, but that is only 6lb higher than the mark off which he won at Limerick, and that mark should be within range. He goes well on soft ground, and his first-time cheekpieces could elicit further improvement.
For more from Donn visit www.donnmcclean.com
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